Monday, March 28, 2011

the patron saint of liars

It was bound to happen some time or another during this year of reading regularly: I read a book that I didn’t love. This is not to say I hated the book; on the contrary, I was more than happy to read it and intrigued by the plot. Plus I had the leisure to work through it pool and beachside, which can never hurt! But when everything was said and done, I wasn’t happy with the decisions the characters made and the ways they lived out their lives. They did everything in a way that seemed that everything was already pre-prescribed, like their moves had already been made. Instead of making active decisions, each decision seemed the inevitable result of their personality and character flaws. 
I guess what bothered me so much about this - why I was so unhappy with the characters and unenthused at the end of the book - was that they didn’t live like they were meant to live. And nothing irks me more than living without passion, without reason and without a desire to do better and to be better. I could go on for hours about the importance of living actively and presently, but I’ll leave it at that and save my rant for another day! Anyways, nothing wrong with the book or author, because she’s written some awesome stuff (check out Bel Canto or Truth and Beauty, also by Ann Patchett), but The Patron Saint of Liars was just not my cup of tea. And that’s okay, not every story is for everyone. 
This next week I’ll be reading Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Honey by Margaret Feinberg, which sounds awesome. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover to give you an idea what it’s about: 
“What does it mean to know Jesus as the Good Shepherd when the only places I’ve encountered sheep are at petting zoos? How can I understand the promise of a land overflowing with honey when I buy mine in a bear-shaped bottle? Is it possible to grasp the urgency of Jesus’ invitation to abide in the vine when I shop for grapes at a local grocery store?”
I’m intrigued, and I’ll be excited to tell you all what she discovered. I’m hoping, too, that it will give me a bit of perspective in a week destined for quite a lot of craziness!

Monday, March 21, 2011

love wins.

I’m not quite so sure what all the fuss is all about. 
I think that if you’re interested in engaging the discussion of heaven, hell, grace, and free will, then you should definitely read this book. I read it yesterday and had a great talk with my Spring Break girls what we believe about the whole matter. In no way do any of us need to take Rob Bell’s word as gold, because I think that taking any one person’s opinion as our own is inherently wrong. Instead, we should take what Rob is saying as one voice speaking one opinion (which has been said before and will be said again), which one possible explanation to a question we will never know the answer to. There are other opinions out there which are equally valid, based in both scripture and everyday life, that tout very different theological truths that we should also be engaging. 
Personally, I felt that Love Wins raised a lot of important questions that no one, including Rob Bell, has the answers to. They are, however, questions that exist within each and every one of us and that we wrestle with in our daily lives and interactions, which makes them even more valid and worth discussing theologically.  In no way have I made up my mind about these questions. What I believe today, based on the sum of all my experiences, is that God’s love means the freedom to choose what reality we want, and in that reality we make our own heaven or hell on earth. I do firmly believe in heaven and hell on earth: that we have the power to redeem this world through our words and our actions, as well as the power to make it more like hell each and every day. I believe that God’s love does ‘conquer all’ in the way that it extends to all, but that within God’s love is the choice to reject or accept the salvation given us.
I’ll just give you a short segment of Rob’s book to ponder, coming from the chapter entitled “Does God get what God wants?”:

If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to that. If we want nothing to do with light, hope, love, grace, and peace, God respects that desire on our part, and we are given a life free from any of those realities. The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.

If, however, we crave light, we’re drawn to truth, we’re desperate for grace, we’ve come to the end of our plots and schemes and we want someone else’s path, God gives us what we want.

If we have this sense that we’ve wandered far from home, and we want to return, God is there, standing in the driveway, arms open, ready to invite us in.

If we thirst for shalom, and we long for the peace that transcends all understanding, God doesn’t just give, they’re poured out on us, lavished, heaped, until we’re overwhelmed. It’s like a feast where the food and wine do not run out.

This, I firmly believe. God will always be standing at the end of the driveway, gazing towards the horizon, watching for the first motion we make towards home, ready to extend wide God’s arms and welcome us home. 
If these questions intrigue you, you should take two hours and read this book (really, that’s all it’s gonna take). And read it before you believe everything the media has to say, because not everyone who is tweeting #love wins really knows what they’re talking about, or has even read the book. 
Thanks for listening to my theological ramblings. Now it’s back to the sun, surf, and this week’s book, Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett, one of my all time favorite authors.

Friday, March 18, 2011

it's beach reading time!!

Just a quick update: 
I survived the last four days of pre-Spring Break craziness, which is a miracle in and of itself, so I’m ready to think about reading for this week! Some of you have probably heard of all the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins, which apparently takes quite a pluralistic view on religion. As My last two books have dealt in different ways with pluralism, I might as well keep going and read Love Wins! Fairly intentionally, I haven’t read any of the blogs or commentary on Bell’s new book, because I’d like to read it myself first before hearing what everyone and their mother has to say. 
As I mentioned, I’m leaving today for Florida and could NOT be more ready. I guess this is my last college break. Wow, strange. After that it’s one month of wildness and I’ll be a full-fledged adult! 
So, I’m going to spend the next week reveling in this: 

...before going back to this:

Much love, Happy Spring break everyone! Read good books for me!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life of Pi on Pi Day!

What a coincidence! I didn’t even plan that...
So, I do a lot of reading (this year more than most:), and I often take reading for granted. I forget the luxury of learning, of hearing and telling stories, of moving physically, page by page, through a book. In Life of Pi, young Pi is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for months on end, and the better part of the novel tells the story of his survival. But aside from meeting his basic needs, such as getting fresh water and rationing or catching food to sustain his life, Pi found himself wishing for a book. The first part of this story tells how Pi became a follower of many religions, mainly Hindu, Muslim, and Christian, and how important these religious practices became in his daily life. This short excerpt, tells, I think, a unique tale about religious pluralism. Take a look:
“My greatest wish--other than salvation--was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One I could read again and again, with new eyes and a fresh understanding each time. Alas, there was no scripture in the lifeboat. I was a disconsolate Arjuna in a battered chariot without the benefit of Krishna’s words. The first time I came upon a Bible in the bedside table of a hotel room in Canada, I burst into tears. I sent a contribution to the Gideons the very next day, with a note urging them to spread the range of their activity to places where worn and weary travelers might lay down their heads, not just to hotel rooms, and that they should leave not only Bibles, but other sacred writings as well. I cannot think of a better way to spread the faith. No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.”
Last week, I thought about religious pluralism from the perspective of Eboo Patel, who has lived his life as a witness to the beauty of interfaith dialogue, and this week I thought about it from the perspective of young Pi Patel, fictional though he is, exploring the meaning of life from a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific. I think that both of these perspectives are perfectly legitimate. Those factual, historical accounts are extremely helpful because they really happened, while fictional accounts, in their own, way seem to tell some of the most poignant truths of life and humanity. I feel that, in order to understand as best we can this crazy beautiful world we live in, we must hear both the facts, history, and reason, as well as listen to others’ stories as we live and tell our own.
I haven’t decided on a book for this week yet...any suggestions? It’s going to be a busy week (heck, it already has been, and it’s only Monday night), what with finishing up projects, papers, and work before heading to Florida for Spring Break! So hopefully something short-ish. I’ve been wanting to read a book of poetry, maybe I’ll browse the library tomorrow during all my free time!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

acts of faith

So I’ve been plugging away at Life of Pi, but I read another book this week that I’d rather tell you about, so I’ll save Yann Martel for next week. This past week for my senior seminar class we’ve been reading the book Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel, who is an American-Indian Muslim who is striving for religious pluralism in America. I was captivated by his story and wanted to share it with you. 

Patel’s mission is to make this world a place in which people with strong convictions in different religions can work together towards common goals. There are a lot of wonderful people out there today and in history that have done profoundly beautiful things for the world because of their religious convictions, wherever they may lie. But because of the way that our society is structured and the barriers we have built up around ourselves, we eagerly search for the ways in which two religions are different, instead of the ways in which the overlap and intersect. Patel believed, as I do, that learning about other religions and developing relationships with people who don’t share the same beliefs as you do can only strengthen your faith. We see, through the actions and practices of others, the strength of their convictions and are inspired to strengthen our own. 
I live and participate in a community that isn’t all that religiously diverse, and don’t often have the opportunity to engage with people that hold radically different beliefs than my own. I’m not trying to discount the Hope community, because the majority of my experiences here have strengthened my faith and taught me how to be a Christian in every aspect of my life, not just on Sunday mornings. But I wish that I also had the opportunity to engage more fully with people of other faiths because I think they could teach me through their own practices how to live and act with integrity as a person of faith.
What I took from the book, and what I hope you take from this post or if you happen to read the book (which you should!), is that there is a possibility for things to be better. We  may, in a society whose access to information is radically affected by media bias, believe that all Muslims are radical jihadists who are hell-bent on destroying America and democracy. We may believe, in the same vein, that all Christians are homophobes or that all Mormons are polygamists. But it is absolutely vital that we look beyond those stereotypes and see the people that practice these faiths as just that, people. I believe, after reading this book, that there is hope for a more accepting and understanding society where differences in religion does not mean bombs or hate mail but love and partnership. And I believe that it’s our generation, who is growing up more culturally literate and generally accepting of differences, that will make this change. 
Think about this:
“Someone who doesn’t make flowers makes thorns. If you’re not building rooms where wisdom can be spoken, you’re building a prison.” -Shams of Tabriz
I’m resolving to make flowers instead of thorns, to build rooms where wisdom can be spoken instead of building a prison. I want to be a person of faith that sees the face of God in other faces around me, whatever their faith may be. And I want to be a person of faith who encourages and engages in discussion instead of shrinking back in fear. 
For more info on the Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel’s nonprofit, check out the website: and this video: